Uttarakhand will retract controversial order on Ganga stretch, but can’t say when

Uttarakhand government has said it will retract the controversial order by the previous Congress government declaring a stretch of the Ganga river as an escape channel and not mainstream river. The decision was taken amid mounting pressure from seers and saints.

Madan Kaushik, cabinet minister and state government spokesperson, blamed the then Congress-led Harish Rawat government for the whole fiasco, saying it hurt religious sentiments of millions of Hindus.

“Definitely we (BJP government) will scrap the previous government’s decision on Ganga stretch in Haridwar. Already, various legal aspects are being considered. But, exactly when it will be retracted, I can’t say as of now. But it will definitely be overturned and the ancient old status of Ganga stretch at Har-Ki-Pauri will be restored” said Kaushik.

The Congress-led government had issued an order declaring Ganga stretch from Sarvanand Ghat, Bhoopatwala till Shri Daknesheswar Mahadev temple, passing through sanctum sanctorum of Brahama Kund, Har-Ki-Pauri as an escape channel on December 14, 2016.

This meant Har-Ki-Pauri ghat was not on the main river Ganga course and thus did not come under NGT directive prohibiting construction activities within 100 metre of the Ganga river.

Former chief minister Harish Rawat said the controversial order was passed to safeguard the interests of local traders and commercial activities but later he realized it was a “mistake”.

The delay in scrapping the order has infuriated the priests, saints and Ganga Sabha –which manages the affairs of sanctum sanctorum of Brahamkund, Har-Ki-Pauri.

Last week former chief minister Harish Rawat sought an apology from the saint community and urged BJP-led state government to nullify the December, 2016 order.

Despite the pressure, it’s not an easy task for the BJP government as interests of many politicians, businessmen, hoteliers, lodge, dharamshalas, ashram owners and traders will get affected due to this step.

A large number of these stakeholders are either close to BJP or Congress office bearers, party workers or are in close touch with top party leaders and even with Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Social-RTI activist JP Baduni, who has filed applications regarding Har-Ki-Pauri and Ganga pollution issues, pointed out that certain traders close to the political parties, who view Ganga through the commercial point of view, had earlier pressurised the Congress government to pass this order and are now lobbying with the BJP to ensure the order doesn’t get nullified.

Notably, way back in 2011-12, Nainital High Court had given directives for the demolition of commercial buildings and establishments falling under the 200-metre periphery of Ganga riverbed.

Later in 2015, National Green Tribunal (NGT) prohibited the construction of any commercial building within 100 metre of Ganga river bed, which led to the Congress-led state government issuing the order on December 14, 2016 to safeguard interests of the affected people.

A senior official privy to the development said that for the past three years, the state government has been dwelling on ways to nullify the order but at the same time, interests of hotel owners, builders, traders and noted saints, who have numerous-dharamshalas at core Har-Ki-Pauri zone, also have to be taken care of.

Aggrieved by the delay in retracting the order, several Akhadas have expressed their displeasure and warned of boycotting Mahakumbh if it is not nullified by this year.

Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad, the apex body of all the major Akhadas, has decided to raise this issue again with chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, when the next meeting on Mahakumbh affairs is held.

To put pressure on the state government for time-bound invalidation of the previous Congress government order, the Ganga Sabha, which manages affairs of Har-Ki-Pauri Ganga ghats, has now decided to take the legal route.

Ganga Sabha president Pradeep Jha said on past several occasions they have apprised the CM TS Rawat and cabinet minister Madan Kaushik in this regard but despite assurances, officially nothing concrete has been done.

“If in the coming weeks this escape channel order is not repealed we will be moving the apex court as this is a matter related with sacred Ganga whom we regard as mother and deity,” said Jha

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